Will Congress Budget for Women’s Health in Lame-Duck Session?

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Will Congress Budget for Women’s Health in Lame-Duck Session?

Emily Crockett

Planned Parenthood Federation of America circulated a memo last week calling on Congress to fund four key women’s health issues, using both an omnibus appropriations bill and the annual defense authorization bill.

Advocates are urging members of Congress to remember basic funding priorities for women’s health as lawmakers look toward crafting a new budget.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America circulated a memo last week calling on Congress to fund four key women’s health issues, using both an omnibus appropriations bill and the annual defense authorization bill:

—A minimum of $300 million for family planning and cancer screenings for low-income women through the Title X program.

—At least $101 million for comprehensive sex education and teen pregnancy prevention programs, and the defunding of ineffective, frequently inaccurate abstinence-only sex education programs supported by some Republicans who won hotly-contested elections this month.

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—Equal access to abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers.

Expanding access to contraception for military service members and their dependents.

The military contraception bill, introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), could become an amendment to the must-pass defense authorization bill, which usually goes through in December.

The other policies depend on how Congress chooses to fund the government in this lame-duck session.

A spending bill of some kind has to be passed by December 11 or the government will shut down. Congress can choose either an omnibus spending bill, which funds the government through next year and can include new programs and funding levels, or a continuing resolution (CR), which is a temporary stop-gap that only continues current funding levels.

Some Congressional Republicans are pushing for a short-term CR, which could allow them to wage a government shutdown war over Obama’s executive action on immigration early next year.

An omnibus bill, on the other hand, could fund new policies like equal abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers, currently the only group with federal health insurance that can’t get abortion coverage even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

That measure passed with bipartisan support out of the appropriations committees in both the House and Senate, but those efforts will be for naught unless an omnibus bill passes.

Also hanging in the balance of how Congress chooses to act is new funding to test a massive backlog of rape kits.

Appropriations committee members are optimistic about passing an omnibus spending bill.

“We’re still working diligently and making progress, and hope to pass an omnibus [bill] through the House by December 11,” Matthew Dennis, spokesperson for the committee’s Democrats, told Rewire.

Funds for family planning and teen pregnancy prevention would continue under a CR, but the funding levels could be much lower than needed. Sequestration has gutted Title X funding in the past several years, and Title X funding in fiscal year 2014 was only about the same as it was in 2005.

The minimum amount Planned Parenthood wants to see appropriated for Title X and teen pregnancy prevention in 2015 are “perfectly appropriate” because they have already been endorsed by the Senate appropriations subcommittee, Dana Singiser, vice president for public policy and government affairs at Planned Parenthood, told Rewire.

“It’s common-sense politics,” Singiser said, noting that the federal government saves $7 for every dollar it spends on family planning.

It’s also good politics, she said, because the midterm elections proved that “being against abortion and birth control is essentially a disqualifier” in competitive races. Despite huge Republican wins in the end, numerous conservative candidates felt the need to downplay or obscure their anti-choice positions on birth control and abortion during the campaign.

Planned Parenthood isn’t pushing for drastic increases in funding for Title X or sex education. It’s about “what we believe is a reasonable number given where the appropriations process is,” Singiser said. But there is always a need for more spending on family planning and public health.

“The federal investment is really modest for what the need is,” she said.